Statement on The United Methodist Church Separation Plan
Many of you have seen reports in the local and national news media about a statement released on Friday from the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church. The statement unveiled a plan to divide the UMC into two – or more – denominations, perhaps as early as this coming May, when the General Conference meets in Minneapolis. Here are three observations for you to consider:
First, the proposal is the result of months of meetings and negotiations among respected leaders of all the major theological and geographical constituencies in the UMC: progressives, traditionalists and centrists, as well as representatives from Africa, Asia, Europe and the United States (plus a number of bishops). That is significant, because it represents the first time amid our years of conflict that any “Way Forward” has been able to garner such agreement, and thus likely will have broad appeal across the Church.
Second, it is for me a sad yet necessary development. My whole life has been integrally connected with the Methodists. In 1968 we became United Methodists as a result of the merger with the Evangelical United Brethren denomination. I even carried a flag for the merger celebration, making me at the front of the line for that historic occasion. In 1974 I became a Deacon in the United Methodist Church. So it is sad that the communion in which I have served as a pastor for more than 46 years will be coming apart. There is no joy in the prospect of severed relationships, or ministries which will suffer or cease.
Having said that, it has been clear since 2016 that such a division was unavoidable. This proposal will alleviate the rancor, and battles over properties which could have gone on in the courts for years. The plan, if adopted, makes much more likely an amicable separation, minimizing pain and conflict, and allowing for ongoing cooperation in ministry and mission after separation occurs.
Third, and perhaps foremost on people’s minds: what will this mean for local congregations like ours? In a word: nothing which requires immediate action on our part. The first stage in implementing the plan is for annual conferences to decide with which of the new denominations they will align. Conferences can begin that process as early as this spring, but all will have to decide by May 15, 2021. Once an annual Conference has decided its direction, local churches can decide where they will align.
Local churches will have until December of 2024 to make that decision. That is nearly five full years, so there is no immediate decision that needs to be made. Our Sanctuary leadership has been keeping abreast of this proposed separation for some time now. “We” will continue to evaluate developments, and to carefully and prayerfully chart our future course here at Sanctuary UMC.
Keep in mind this is still just a proposal. Once it is in the hands of the delegates to the General Conference in May, it can be accepted, rejected or modified. So, we still will not know definitively until then what will transpire. Meanwhile I am committed to keeping you informed, but not allowing the denominational turmoil to become our central concern. Instead we will keep our focus on matters of first importance: worshipping God, making and strengthening disciples of Jesus, and serving our community and our world in Christ’s name.
In the near future I will be listing some dates where there will be a Congregational Meeting for anyone to come and discuss and ask questions about the proposal and changes that are unfolding.
Meanwhile, if you would like to talk to me personally about this further, feel free to email or call, or stop in to see me. And please be in prayer for our congregation, conference and denomination, as we enter this time of transition. 267-664-5716 / firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grace and peace,